Jon Speelman: Diplomatic draw is a good move when playing a tyrant

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The Independent Online

Since he was on home soil, it was only natural that Muammar Gaddafi had the White pieces and the advantage of the first move. But this being Libya – and as if in defiance of punitive sanctions imposed on the country – it was Silver vs Gold played on an ornate board which certainly would not have been acceptable for international conditions. Such is the intensity of the psychological struggle in serious chess games that players have occasionally been known to don dark glasses for fear of hypnotism or other dark arts. In this case, there was only one man (with his portrait hanging on the wall behind him) employing psychological pressure while making a move from his white sofa – and it wasn't Ilyumzhinov.

From the limited footage available it is clear that Gaddafi is not remotely a serious chess player. He dithered over his first move which I presume was intended to be the classical 1.e2-e4 – initially moving the pawn just a single square forward (1.e2-e3) – and had to be helped by President Ilyumzhinov. In most king's pawn openings, things move fairly rapidly with significant contact between the forces early on. It is the move of a man in a hurry. In contrast queen's pawn openings (after 1.d2-d4) tend to be more strategic with the struggle deferred.

The quick diplomatic draw was to be expected. The handshake came as Gaddafi captured a second of his opponent's golden pawns. This is legal under the normal rules of chess, though nowadays many competitions employ so-called "Sofia rules" prohibiting them.

In a later game Ilyumzhinov took on Gaddafi's eldest son Muhammad. The opening was the Sicilian Defence, a highly aggressive opening which was a favourite of Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov. For those seeking symbolism in Libya's current struggle, it typically leads to frantic middlegames in which the players castle on opposite wings before trying to checkmate the other before disaster befalls their own monarch: a case of assassinate before you are assassinated.